A high-profile member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe is one of eight people who have been charged with felony elver poaching in New York, according to an official with that state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Frederick J. Moore III, a former Passamaquoddy tribal representative to the Maine Legislature, is facing three felony charges in New York after he “surrendered himself” to department officials on April 8, Lisa King, public information officer with the New York state agency, said Friday in an email.

Moore, 53, of Perry, declined to comment on the allegations when contacted Friday by email. But according to an Indian official with the Unkechaug Indian Nation in Mastic, N.Y., Moore is advising the Unkechaugs on an eel fishery management plan being developed by the New York tribe.

“Fred Moore is here as a consultant to help us implement our plan,” Chief Harry Wallace said Friday when contacted by phone. Moore and two other Perry residents — Frederick J. Moore IV, 21, and Kyle S. Lewey, 21 — were merely observing the Unkechaugs’ fishing efforts when they were approached by law enforcement officials, he said.

Fishing for elvers, which are young American eels, is prohibited in New York. Maine and South Carolina, which produces a very small annual harvest compared to Maine, are the only two states on the East Coast where elver fishing is permitted.

The charges against Moore and the other people involved, Wallace added, are “ridiculous.” He said the Unkechaugs take issue with all state-imposed restrictions on the tribe’s traditional activities.

“We have to find a way to survive and sustain ourselves,” Wallace said.

Aside from the three men from Perry, others charged in the incident include Ginew L. Benton, 33, of Hope Valley, R.I; Michael D. Cardoze, 43, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Daniel Patrick White, 52, of Akwesane, N.Y.; Wallace C. Wilson, 34, of Mastic, N.Y.; and Gordell S. Wright, 41, of Southampton, N.Y.

All eight men were observed harvesting a large amount of elvers after dark on March 28 from a creek in Southampton, according to a report by Joseph Pinciaro of the Riverhead News-Review newspaper on Long Island. Felony charges were filed against each defendant on April 8 after further investigation by law enforcement officers.

Each defendant has been charged with possession of American eels in excess of the limit; possession of undersized American eels; and not having a state-issued food fish permit. All three charges are considered felony charges because the value of the eels in the group’s possession was more than $1,500.

They also have been charged with a misdemeanor count of conspiracy to commit a crime and with using an eel trap with a mesh size smaller than the minimum limit allowed, according to King, the spokesperson for the New York agency. They are due to be arraigned in Suffolk County First District Court in Central Islip, N.Y., on June 25, she said.

Interest in elvers has soared in the past three years, with the average statewide price Maine fishermen get having shot up from $185 per pound in 2010 to more than $1,800 per pound in each of the past two years. Prices so far this season have fallen back down to between $400 and $600 per pound, according to Maine officials.

Fred Moore III has served as the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s representative to the Maine Legislature on two occasions, in the 1990s and again in the mid-2000s. In the past couple of years, since the price of elvers skyrocketed, he has been highly critical of the state’s position on how the tribal elver fishery should be managed.

Moore spoke to reporters last year in Augusta after tribal officials met with state legislators and Patrick Keliher, commissioner of Maine Department of Marine Resources, to try to resolve a dispute over whether the state can impose fishery management measures on the tribe.

Moore said at the time that the tribe shares the goal of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to eliminate elver poaching, but added that the state’s Marine Patrol should focus its attention on serious offenders rather than tribal fishermen who manage the resource sustainably.

The meeting was held after Maine law enforcement officers had confiscated fishing nets from tribal members who, according to the state, did not have state-approved licenses.

“It should have been done a long time ago,” Moore said in 2013 about not targeting Passamaquoddys with tribal licenses. “The state of Maine should be focusing on apprehending criminals across the state of Maine rather than coming Down East to manufacture them.”

Earlier this week, another poaching incident occurred in Maine. Two unlicensed Massachusetts men were arrested Thursday in Portland after Marine Patrol officers found them with about 20 pounds of elvers.

Without commenting specifically on either case, Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said Friday in a prepared statement that new rules implemented this year are helping to discourage poaching.

“The individual quota system, in conjunction with the swipe cards, is doing exactly what we had hoped it would do — creating a strong disincentive for illegal poaching activity,” Keliher said. “Unfortunately, there is probably nothing that resource managers, in Maine or other states, can do to entirely prevent the greed of a small number of individuals. Poachers have no respect for the efforts of managers and law abiding harvesters to conserve this resource. Poaching remains the greatest threat to our ability to maintain this lucrative fishery into the future.”

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....